Mrs. Grier, a spare, anxious-looking woman, with a tight friz of hair about her temples, which were thin and shining, met them at the door. She had hurried home to see to things, and be ready to welcome her guests. John she ushered at once into her husbands study, a poor little room, with even fewer books than Mr. Wards own, while Helen she took to the spare chamber, where she had thoughtfully provided a cambric dress for her, for the day had grown very warm, and the riding-habit was heavy.
Well, people like a change once in a while, Mrs. Grier admitted, rocking hard. Mr. Griers discourse was to be on the same subject as your husbands, foreign missions. It is one that moves the preachers, and the people seem to like it, I notice, though I dont know that it makes much difference in the collections. But I think they like to get all harrowed up. Youll find there wont be such an attendance in the afternoon. It is ways and means then, you know. Yes, seems as if sermons on hell made them shiver, and they enjoyed it. Ive sometimes thoughtI dont know as Im rightthey get the same kind of pleasure out of it that worldly people do out of a play. Not that I know much about such things, Im sure.
There had been no chance for the husband and wife to speak to each other. John looked at Helen steadily a moment, but her eyes veiled any thought. In the midst of Mrs. Griers chatter, she had gone into the solitude of her own heart, and slowly and silently light was beginning to shine into the mysterious darkness of the last few days. Johns grief must have had something to do with this terrible sermon. She felt her heart leap up from the past anxiety like a bird from a net, and the brooding sadness began to fade from her face. The preacher had come down from the pulpit with a certain exhilaration, as of duty done. He was inspired to hope, and even certainty, by the greatness of the theme. Helen should see the truth, his silence should no longer mislead her, she should believe in the justice of God. He had forgotten his sin of cowardice in the onward-sweeping wave of his convictions; he seemed to yield himself up to the grasp of truth, and lost even personal remorse in the contemplation of its majesty.
Mrs. Grier had four noisy children, who all spoke at once, and needed their mothers constant care and attention, so John and Helen could at least be silent; yet it was hard to sit through the dinner when their hearts were impatient for each other.
It was a wonderful discourse, sir, she said; seems as if nobody could stand against such doctrine as you gave us. I could have wished, though, youd have told us your thoughts about infants being lost. There is a difference of opinion between Mr. Grier and two of our elders.
Well, Mrs. Grier answered, shaking her head, he does say they are all saved. But the elders, they say that the confession of faith teaches that elect infants are saved, and of course it follows that those not elect are lost. My father, Mr. Ward, was a real old-fashioned Christian, and I must say that was what I was taught to believe, and I hold by it. There now, Ellen, you take your little sister and go out into the garden, like a good girl.
No, I agree with your husband, he said. True, all children are born in sin, and are despised and abhorred as sinners by God. Jonathan Edwards, you know, calls them vipers, which of course was a crude and cruel way of stating the truth that they are sinners. Yet, through the infinite mercy, they are saved because Christ diednot of themselves; in other words, all infants who die are elect.
But then, she proceeded, I dont see how a person can help being sound on that, though it is surprising what people will doubt, even the things that are plainest to other people. Ive many a time heard my father say that the proper holding of the doctrine of reprobation was necessary to eternal life. I suppose you believe that, Mr. Ward, she added, with a little toss of her head, even if you dont go all the way with the confession, about infants?
Mrs. Grier flung up her little thin hands, which looked like bird-claws. You dont! she cried shrilly. Well, now, I do say! And what do you think about the heathen, then? Do you think theyll be damned?
If they had to be, cried Helen, with sudden passion, I should want to be a heathen. I should be ashamed to be saved, if there were so many lost. She stopped; the anguish in Johns face silenced her.
Well, she broke in, I shouldnt suppose you would care to go, so long as its just about the ways and means of sending the gospel to the heathen, and you think theyre all going right to heaven, any way.
I do not know where they are going, Mrs. Grier, Helen said wearily; for all I know, there is no heaven, either. I only know that Godif there is a God who has any personal care for uscould not be so wicked and cruel as to punish people for what they could not help.
But Helen did not invite her to come into the spare room when she went to lie down, after Johns departure for church. She wanted to be alone. She had much to think of, much to reconcile and explain, to protect herself from the unhappiness which Johns sermon might have caused her. She had had an unmistakable shock of pain and distress as she realized her husbands belief, and to feel even that seemed unloving and disloyal. To Helens mind, if she disapproved of her husbands opinions on what to her was an unimportant subject, her first duty was to banish the thought, and forget that she had ever had it. She sat now by the open window, looking out over the bright garden to the distant peaceful hills, and by degrees the pain of it began to fade from her mind, in thoughts of John himself, his goodness, and their love. Yes, they loved one another,that was enough.
So, by and by, the content of mere existence unfolded in her heart, and Johns belief was no more to her than a dress of the mind; his character was unchanged. There was a momentary pang that the characters of others might be hurt by this teaching of the expediency of virtue, but she forced the thought back. John, whose whole life was a lesson in the beauty of holinessJohn could not injure any one. The possibility that he might be right in his creed simply never presented itself to her.
Helens face had relaxed into a happy smile; again the day was fair and the wind sweet. The garden below her was fragrant with growing things and the smell of damp earth; and while she sat, drinking in its sweetness, a sudden burst of childrens voices reached her ear, and Ellen and the two little boys came around the corner of the house and settled down under the window. A group of lilacs, with feathery purple blossoms, made a deep, cool shade where the children sat; and near them was an old grindstone, streaked with rust and worn by many summers of sharpening scythes; a tin dipper hung on the wooden frame, nearly full of last nights rain, and with some lilac stars floating in the water.
This was evidently a favorite playground with the children, for under the frame of the grindstone were some corn-cob houses, and a little row of broken bits of china, which their simple imagination transformed into dishes. But to-day the corn-cob houses and the dishes were untouched.
They will roar, curse, and blaspheme God, said little Jim cheerfully; while Bobby, to show his joy that the lesson was done, leaned over on his flower-pot and tried to stand on his head, making all the time an unearthly noise.
Well, said Ellen slowly and solemnly, when I get to be a big girl, thats what Im going to be. Im tired of catechism, and church, and those long blessings father asks, but most of catechism, so Im going to run away and be a circus.
This is my horse, she said, balancing herself, with outstretched arms, on the stone, and making it revolve in a queer, jerky fashion by pressing her feet on it as though it were a treadmill, and it is bare-backed!
It made a pretty picture, the sunbeams sifting through the lilacs on the little fair heads and dancing over Ellens white apron and rosy face; but Mrs. Grier, who had come to the door at the noise of the cheers, did not stop to notice it.
Oh, you naughty children! she cried. Dont you know it is wicked to play on the Sabbath? Ellens playing circus, do you say, Bobby? You naughty, naughty girl! Dont you know circus people are all wicked, and dont go to heaven when they die? I should think youd be ashamed! Go right up-stairs, Ellen, and go to bed; and you boys can each learn a psalm, and youll have no supper, either,do you hear?
The children began to cry, but Mrs. Grier was firm; and when, a little later, Helen came down-stairs, ready for her ride, the house was strangely quiet. Mrs. Grier, really troubled at her childrens sinfulness, confided their misdeeds to Helen, and was not soothed by the smile that flashed across her face.
But Mrs. Grier was not comforted, and only felt the more convinced of the lost condition of Mrs. Wards soul. The conviction of other peoples sin is sometimes a very pleasing emotion, so she bade her guest good-by with much cordiality and even pulled the skirt of her habit straight and gave the gray a lump of sugar.